Within the overarching realm of comedy, there are subtle yet important lines that distinguish different types of humor, such as the distinction between viral YouTube videos and a friend’s drunken ramblings, between bathroom humor and political satire.
With comedians like Daniel Tosh currently in the media spotlight for less-than-tasteful jokes, the comedic profession’s legitimacy is being questioned more so than ever before, as audiences try to discern what makes someone a comedian, rather than someone who is just funny. On Saturday, Sept. 1, a packed Strong Auditorium, excited to see Craig Robinson, experienced a demonstration of that very distinction.
Opening the night was Gerard Guillory, a veteran comedian who has appeared on “MadTV” and “The Tonight Show.” Though he struggled with a fairly stagnant audience throughout the set, Guillory was able to draw out some laughs early on with simple one-liners and the occasional pelvic thrust. With very few exceptions, however, these methods comprised the entirety of his set, as Guillory struggled to transform his humor from high school locker room talk to comedic brilliance.
“[He] didn’t seem that original,” senior Trevor Filer said after the show. “I didn’t find [his] jokes terribly funny.”
Guillory came closest to comedic excellence early in the set, with a satirical remark about rappers’ attitudes toward promoting their work at the most “inopportune, uncomfortable moments,” as he mocked an imaginary rapper at an awards show by screaming “Hey y’all, I just wanna let y’all know that my album drops on the fifty-fifth!” This marked one of the few times Guillory strayed from his structure of “make a one-liner about sex and watch the college students chuckle” toward actually putting on a comedy show. This gag reappeared a few more times to provide a small level of organization to the show.
Though he partook in a similar genre of humor, Craig Robinson provided a sharp, unique contrast to Guillory’s set. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of Darryl Philbin on NBC’s “The Office,” Robinson blended music and comedy to create a funny and engaging performance. Though it seemed that many students attended the show because of an appreciation of his role as Darryl — one student even yelled out “We love you, Darryl!” — it is clear that Robinson is just as talented a comedian as he is an actor.
Interacting with the audience from the very beginning, Robinson opened by playing the childhood classic “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” playfully chastising the audience when members clapped instead of stomping during the second verse.
“It’s stomp your feet, motherfuckers!” he shouted.
Though able to get laughs from the smallest gestures and one-liners, Robinson didn’t limit his performance to just that —he also created a sing-along rapport with the audience that made it impossible not to smile when he inserted “take your panties off” (a running gag through the whole set) into crowd favorites like the Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Though, like Guillory, much of Robinson’s humor was simple, he was fully committed to conveying it in an original way that poked fun at both the audience and at himself, including a reference to his 2008 arrest for possession of ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine.
The set, though overall quite entertaining, was not entirely without faults. Despite even his best efforts, at times Robinson wasn’t completely successful in his musical renditions, as some bits were lost on audience members due to generational and stylistic differences. This seemed to be, however, more a reflection on the typical UR student than it was on Robinson’s skills as a comedian. A slightly older audience might have better received some of these references, including one in which Robinson poked fun at the Chicago Bulls’ introduction music for Michael Jordan, comparing it to the song a man hears before he sleeps with someone. Fortunately though, these moments were few and far between.
Robinson ended the set with a question-and-answer session, where his genuine likability was evident as he fielded questions about working with Steve Carell and his experience with “The Office.” Responding to a student’s request for a hug, he even graciously offered to stay an extra thirty minutes to take pictures with students.
Overall, the show was a good addition to an exciting Yellowjacket Weekend. Though not without faults, Robinson’s main achievement of the night was providing a reminder of what good stand-up is — comedy that bridges the gap between trivial attempts at eliciting laughter and a well balanced, refined art. It is possible to present intelligent humor idiotically, and equally possible to present simple humor intelligently — and when dealing with simple humor, one must do just that. Where Guillory failed, Robinson succeeded, and crowd members were able to leave the auditorium thoroughly entertained.
Cornish is a member of the class of 2013.